Rethinking How We Study Abroad

Study Abroad

As a junior at Emerson College, I was lucky enough to get to spend a semester studying abroad in Europe with a small group of classmates. Our home base was a small village in the Netherlands, and our living quarters were an actual castle – double-moated, nonetheless – owned by the school. On weekends and weeklong breaks, we hopped on the Eurail and backpacked around various European cities, balancing museums with café-hopping.

Needless to say, this college study abroad experience changed my life. It opened my eyes to other ways of living beyond anything I’d seen at home. It was exciting, scary, humbling, and fascinating, and I returned forever changed.

Although this experience was undeniably powerful, a recent Good article by Manasa Yeturu made me wonder: what if I’d been given the opportunity to take it a step further? Instead of studying in classrooms during the week and exploring on the weekends, what if I could have incorporated the learning experience more directly into the traveling portion?

Better yet, imagine if these opportunities weren’t only available to college students or those fresh out of college, but if we could continue to grow in this way as working professionals?

Manasa, already a working professional at Good, decided to take a year to travel and “apprentice” with several carefully selected companies that align with her true passion and interest – working to empower low-income adolescent girls. Rather than interning, she is actively designing her own experience, and her assistance is mutually beneficial to both her and the companies. She calls it “a year of ‘learn + do,’” and Good seems to be sponsoring her mission.

The way she sees it, rather than being taught theories in a classroom, many things simply have to be learned through experience. Getting your hands dirty and figuring out how to solve problems – and create and execute cohesive action plans around those solutions – often mean diving in head first and failing over and over before you succeed. So, rather than creating yet another start-up or taking on a project without support or experience behind it, the idea is to to first learn directly from those who are already in the game, while directly contributing to their mutual missions.

Of course, there is great value in doing things like studying abroad as I did, as well as in joining the Peace Corps, or working on an organic farm in exchange for room and board. For working professionals, a sabbatical, whether work-funded or personal, is another great direction for those in the position to do so. Even charity vacations give you an opportunity to learn on the short-term. But the idea of a professional apprenticeship that helps you travel the world seems like a great new and much-needed option for entrepreneurial and action-driven folks who are lucky enough to take on the challenge.

If you could take a year to learn in this way, what would you do?

Written By: Lorelei Plotczyk
Lorelei is a regular contributor to the Ashford University blog.

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